Among their other accomplishments, the ancient Mayas invented a calendar of remarkable accuracy and complexity. At right is the ancient Mayan Pyramid Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico. The Pyramid of Kukulkan at Chichén Itzá, constructed circa 1050 was built during the late Mayan period, when Toltecs from Tula became politically powerful. The pyramid was used as a calendar: four stairways, each with 91 steps and a platform at the top, making a total of 365, equivalent to the number of days in a calendar year.
The kin, tun, and katun are numbered from 0 to 19.
The uinal are numbered from 0 to 17.
The baktun are numbered from 1 to 13.
Although they are not part of the Long Count, the Mayas had names for larger time spans. The following names are sometimes quoted, although they are not ancient Maya terms: 1 pictun = 20 baktun = 2,880,000 days = approx. 7885 years
1 calabtun = 20 pictun = 57,600,000 days = approx. 158,000 years
1 kinchiltun = 20 calabtun = 1,152,000,000 days = approx. 3 million years
1 alautun = 20 kinchiltun = 23,040,000,000 days = approx. 63 million years
The alautun is probably the longest named period in any calendar.
When did the Long Count Start?
Logically, the first date in the Long Count should be 0.0.0.0.0, but as the baktun (the first component) are numbered from 1 to 13 rather than 0 to 12, this first date is actually written 18.104.22.168.0.
The authorities disagree on what 22.214.171.124.0 corresponds to in our calendar. I have come across three possible equivalences:
126.96.36.199.0 = 8 Sep 3114 BC (Julian) = 13 Aug 3114 BC (Gregorian)
188.8.131.52.0 = 6 Sep 3114 BC (Julian) = 11 Aug 3114 BC (Gregorian)
184.108.40.206.0 = 11 Nov 3374 BC (Julian) = 15 Oct 3374 BC (Gregorian)
Assuming one of the first two equivalences, the Long Count will again reach 220.127.116.11.0 on 21 or 23 December AD 2012 – a not too distant future.
The date 18.104.22.168.0 may have been the Mayas' idea of the date of the creation of the world.
What is the Tzolkin?
- a numbered week of 13 days, in which the days were numbered from 1 to 13
- a named week of 20 days, in which the names of the days were:
The Tzolkin date is a combination of two "week" lengths.
While our calendar uses a single week of seven days, the Mayan calendar used two different lengths of week:
|0. Ahau||1. Imix||2. Ik||3. Akbal||4. Kan|
|5. Chicchan||6. Cimi||7. Manik||8. Lamat||9. Muluc|
|10. Oc||11. Chuen||12. Eb||13. Ben||14. Ix|
|15. Men||16. Cib||17. Caban||18. Etznab||19. Caunac|